Harvey Weinstein scandal: Why harassment in Hollywood needs addressing

Harvey Weinstein scandal: Why harassment in Hollywood needs addressing

Hollywood film producer, Harvey Weinstein, asked insiders for support to prevent his ousting from the Board, following an exposé which found he sexually harassed several female employees over decades.

According to a New York Times investigation, Weinstein was accused of harassing female employees and aspiring actresses, including Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, and covering up allegations for over nearly three decades. Just hours before Weinstein was sacked by the Board of his company, The Weinstein Company, he sent an email to his Hollywood associates, saying he was "desperate" for help and called for the film industry to support him.

The BBC reports that those who said they saw the email, said it read: "My Board is thinking of firing me. All I'm asking is let me take a leave of absence and get into heavy therapy and counselling. A lot of the allegations are false as you know but given therapy and counselling as other people have done, I think I'd be able to get there. I could really use your support or just your honesty if you can't support me." The report also stated that the Human Resources department in both London and New York were 'weak'. 

Speaking exclusively to HR Grapevine, Rachel Suff, Public Policy Advisor at Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, explained that workplace allegations, of any type, should never be dismissed. She tells us: “Organisations should treat any form of alleged harassment seriously, not just because of the legal implications and because it can lead to under-performance, but also because people have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work.”

When the claims first came to light, Weinstein issued a statement in which he apologised for causing "a lot of pain". However, he later disputed the claims, with a member of his legal team saying the article was "saturated with false and defamatory statements".

According to the NYT report, on several occasions Weinstein invited female employees to his hotel room where he would make sexual advances, such as asking them to massage him and watch him naked. He promised to help advance their careers in return for sexual favours.

Actress Ashley Judd recently spoke out about her episode with Weinstein. Two decades ago, he invited her for what she expected to be a business breakfast meeting at Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel. However, Weinstein appeared in a bathrobe and asked if Judd would like a massage or if she could watch him shower. She said in a recent interview, “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”

The NYT also spoke to company officials, and found that Weinstein made at least eight settlements with women he harassed. Most of the women that accepted pay-outs agreed to confidentiality clauses prohibiting them from speaking about the deals or the events that led to them.

Many of Weinstein’s former and current employees, admitted to knowing about his inappropriate conduct while they worked for him, but just a handful said they confronted him. The report stated that Weinstein enforced a code of silence, where employees of his company had contracts saying they will not criticise it or its leaders in a way that could harm its “business reputation” or “any employee’s personal reputation.”

David Southall, an Employment Law Consultant for the ELAS Group, says the scandal should encourage employers not to dismiss internal culture problems, for the sake of profits: "It can be tempting for a board of directors to cover up discriminatory behaviour by a key member of staff. The short terms needs of keeping a so-called profit generator onside are weighed against the legal requirement to comply with Equality Legislation, and sadly the latter is often deemed to be of lesser importance," he explains. "Bad decisions are made when the need to retain a socially rogue individual is placed above the organisation's reputation and fall out, should the behaviour be exposed in public."

Several Hollywood stars have spoken about the complaints, with Dame Judi Dench, who won an Oscar for her role in the Weinstein movie Shakespeare in Love, calling the claims "horrifying". Meryl Streep told the Huffington Post she said the news was "disgraceful" and praised the women who reported the alleged abuse as "heroes."

Southall adds: "Let me make this very clear - harassment of any kind is wrong. It is not only illegal but a fundamental breach of the trust between an employee and employer. If these allegations are true then Mr Weinstein's behaviour does not belong in any environment, particularly not in a workplace."

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